Tellington TTouch Training Canada

A Stroke of Genius: TTouch Techniques for Instant Softness with Horses & Dogs


Stroking the leash, hand over hand, as you walk into a “halt” allows for better balance and is more polite!

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction, one of Newton’s three laws of motion.  Who knew that 10th grade physics class would be applicable to training and handling animals?    When an animal is “resistant” whether it’s;  pulling on the leash, leaning on the reins,  barging forward, or any number of behaviors that are considered less than ideal by human standards, it is often simply the result of the ‘opposition reflex”,  the consequence of Newton’s third law of motion. 

The Tellington TTouch has long recognized that trying to “out pressure” an animal; that is matching whatever resistance they offering by applying an opposite pressure, and releasing only once the animal has, is not the most effective way of encouraging cooperation and softness. The  TTouch way of managing and reducing this “opposition reflex” have changed and evolved over the years beginning with an “ask and release”;evolving into a “ratchet” or “pulsing” motion both of which proved to be extremely effective when working with horses and dogs. 

Over the past few years there have been developments in refining and developing the subtly and feel in this technique.  Combing/Stroking, and Sliding are three variations on this concept that are incredibly useful in a wide variety of situations including; in the saddle riding, working dogs on leash, and handling horses on the ground.

Combing the reins was the catalyst for the use of this sliding technique.  After working with Peggy Cummings and incorporating Connected Riding tools, Robyn quickly realized that Combing of the Reins would have many beneficial applications besides its initial purpose to relax and lengthen the horse’s body from the saddle. 

“Combing” the reins

This principle of a sliding connection to the animal is not just for riders.  Those who handle dogs are just as susceptible to creating a pattern of tension and bracing through the lead as riders.  “Leash pulling” is an incredibly common “complaint” lodged by dog owners everywhere.  With TTouch we realize that pulling on the leash is simply a manifestation of Newton’s Law and that dogs without owners attached to their leashes don’t pull, they just go where they want to! The reality is most of us need our dogs to happily go with us on leash at times so we need to help our dogs, and ourselves, find ways to reduce this reflex and support cooperation.   

Looking at balance, coordination, and altering what equipment is being used along with TTouch groundwork and bodywork goes a long way to reducing the incidence of pulling dogs however it does not always reduce the pull-y humans! 

Teaching handlers to “Stroke the leash” is a simple and incredibly effective way of reducing the Opposition Reflex and changing the habitual patterns of the human.  To “Stroke the leash” the handler simply slides their hands down the leash, hand over hand, towards their middle, making a soft connection with the dog.  This can be used in many instances whether it is to slow a rushing dog, make contact before giving a new signal, or redirecting a dog that is captivated by something in the opposite direction. 

 To make your Leash Stroking most effective, it is useful to try it with another human at the other end of the leash.  Stand across from your human “dog” with both of you holding the end of the leash.  The “handler” can experiment with different pressures, the difference between having the end of the leash swinging as they stroke or having it in their hand, adding a “pause” between each pass of the hands, and finally how they use their body as a whole.  Being mindful of allowing your entire body to follow each hand left to right, in a slight rotation of the torso, will make a huge difference in how soft and fluid the motion will feel to the dog.  You may also experiment with different pressures of stroking, adjusting depending on how “pull-y” your dog is.  Having a human to provide verbal feedback is incredibly useful when perfecting and refining any new skill.

The beauty of this technique is that it is incredibly simply to teach clients, can be used in virtually any situation, with any type of equipment, and that it REALLY works!  Once you add Leash Stroking to your tool box you will wonder what you ever did without it.

Horses, like dogs, find themselves in the same cycle of Opposition, especially when being handled on the ground.  TTouch has always recognized that “barge-y” or “disrespectful” horses are usually unbalanced and have postural habits that are not conducive to having another being directing them from the end of a lead.  While horses have the Opposition Reflex, so too do we, and just like them it is a learned response to override it.  This is extremely true for handling horses on the ground. 

 Teaching yourself to “Slide slightly on the line any time you give a signal from the lead is as simple as it is effective.   “Sliding” on the line is allowing your fingers to slide just a few centimeters (or inches for those still attached to Imperial measurement) as you make a signal.  It is the difference between a static and a fluid signal to the horse or dog. 

How often do we as the humans just decide to start going in a direction without giving our animal a hint about this spontaneous idea before we are off and walking, dragging them along? Incorporating the slide any time you feel pressure on the lead or leash takes practice, it is not instinct, but it goes a long way to improving cooperation and communication, partially because it stops us from being so rude!

While “sliding” is incredibly useful with difficult horses, it is advisable to initially practice it with an easy horse.  Next time you handle your favorite equine companion, notice what happens if you allow that mini slide with your fingers as you ask for a halt, walk, or turn.  Generally there will be a reduction in bracing (even if it is the slightest lift of the head), a greater ease in movement, and a general sense of softness.  If nothing else, it is a more polite way of the human requesting a specific behavior because it gives the animal a chance to respond.   It is also an excellent tool to incorporate into any leading exercises that you may use.

This sense of a softness and elasticity in your hand will serve you well when working with foals, nervous or un-handled horses, or horses with a tendency to rear or leave a situation.  If you can train yourself to go without sudden movements, that is allowing the line to slide slightly (which is rather different than completely throwing it away) you will have the opportunity to interrupt the Opposition Reflex rather than becoming part of it.  This simple concept is incredibly powerful and once formed into a habit creates a softness and feel that can improve all aspects of horse handling.

Whether your primary animal interactions are with dogs or horses; camelids or cats, or any species that you find yourself on the opposite end of a lead with, these stroking techniques will make everyday handling easier and less stressful for you and your animal. 

Try this for yourself and let us know how it worked!

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